Monday, January 11, 2016

Arcadia by Iain Pears....or.... What The Heck Is It?

One hundred pages into this novel, I asked myself just exactly what was I reading? A science fiction novel about time travel? A metaphysical treatise on parallel universes? A literary experiment into the meta-semantics of what fiction really is?

 I’m still not sure. Arcadia, the latest novel by English writer Iain Pears, might be an Alice in Wonderland for the 21st Century. Or a novel as written by MC Escher. It’s a story that twists and turns, winds back into itself, and still manages to remain both entertaining as well as thought-provoking.

Summarizing the plot is difficult. In 1960’s England, Henry Lytten, an eccentric Oxford don and sometime spy, scribbles away at a Tolkien-esque fantasy novel about a young man, Jay, an apprentice Storyteller in a faraway time and place. Henry befriends an even more eccentric woman, Alice Meerson, a mathematician who may just be from the future. And then there is Rosalind, a 15 year-old neighbor who stumbles into a world of Storytellers, time travelers, and a fictional world turned into a fantastic future reality. Then she meets Jay.

And don’t even get me started on poor Alexander Chang, who definitely isn’t a Russian spy, but rather, another mathematician who’s been sent back from the future to retrieve Alice.

Plot and subplots weave magically, brilliantly, in, out, and around each other, creating a rich tapestry of a novel. Am I reading just a story? Or am I reading The Story as told by the Storyteller in the story? You see what I mean? It’s a literary puzzle to be sure. But it’s written with such skill that you don’t seem to mind all the literary contortions.

Gareth, a reader/reviewer from sums it up nicely:
“The most entertaining Shakespearean time-travel, dystopian science fantasy spy thriller romance I’ve read in that terribly over-crowded genre.”

I couldn’t have said it better!

Ian Pears Arcadia will be published in February, 2016. Look for it on Newport Library’s Online Catalog in a few weeks.

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